Nearly 130 local middle and high school students were at Niagara University on Thursday to tackle sensitive issues related to race and equality. The daylong conference was presented by the university's Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality, and Mission, which was established last fall to leverage change on causes associated with diversity, equality and social justice - both on campus and within the community.
The event commenced with a welcome from Dr. Timothy Ireland, Niagara's provost, and the playing of a video that demonstrated how some young people are handicapped in the "race of life" through no fault of their own.
Attendees then broke out into a series of 17 interactive and thought-provoking workshops that covered a gamut of topics, from stereotyping in the criminal justice system and social media's role in social justice to the function that race plays in goal-setting and conversations on how participants can realize their full potential.
The students came from Burgard, The Academy (Buffalo) and Niagara Falls high schools, as well as from the Niagara-Wheatfield and Sweet Home central school districts.
Much of the conference was coordinated by Niagara University social work and Ostapenko Center interns, with the assistance of a few students from the University at Buffalo and SUNY Fredonia.
Dr. Rolanda L. Ward, the endowed faculty director of the Ostapenko Center, said the goal of the event was to address local and national issues of race while encouraging dialogue among youth on equality and mission.
"We know that circumstances, which are often dictated by race and inequalities, create an unequal playing field from a very young age, and our intent is to have healthy conversations about how we can all help overcome marginalization and oppression in our communities," Ward said. "By organizing this conference, our college students had the opportunity to play an active role in their own development while serving as informal mentors for these middle and high school students. I couldn't be more proud of their work."
NU's Ostapenko Center is named in honor of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko, a native of Germany who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s before becoming a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. To learn more, call 716-286-8520 or visit www.niagara.edu/ostapenko-race-equality-center